It’s been a busy few weeks for CFG Bank.

The Baltimore-based company, which offers commercial and personal banking services, told employees last month of its intent to move its headquarters from just over the Baltimore County line to the city’s Port Covington waterfront development. On Monday, Baltimore officials and developers unveiled the company’s multiyear naming rights deal with the former Royal Farms Arena, which is slated to start ushering in crowds in February as the CFG Bank Arena.

The 13-year-old bank, which has kept a relatively low profile over the years, has quietly grown a successful enterprise and waded into the public spotlight with its recent business activity.

The Baltimore Banner sat down with CFG Bank founder and board Chair, John W. “Jack” Dwyer, and CEO and President, William C. “Bill” Wiedel Jr., to discuss the bank’s expansion and growing footprint in the city — and to give readers a little insight into the little-known bank that will soon have its name displayed prominently downtown.

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The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Bill Wiedel, CEO of CFG Bank, speaks at the announcement of the Baltimore Arena's name change to CFG Bank Arena.
Bill Wiedel, CEO and president of CFG Bank, speaks at the announcement of the arena’s name change to CFG Bank Arena. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The Baltimore Banner: Let’s start with the last couple of weeks: I feel like I’m writing about CFG Bank a lot now, specifically with the Port Covington and CFG Bank Arena announcements. Have these developments been a long time coming, or is this more of a sudden shift in strategy?

Bill Wiedel: I think Port Covington came up just because we have run out of space. We’ve been growing at a pretty good rate over the last couple of years. And we looked at various options for space and we determined that was the strongest option.

Jack Dwyer: Yeah, that’s basically how it transpired. I mean, we kind of looked at Port Covington, maybe even two or three years ago. We just kept trying to cram people into the space that we have now.

BW: And with the arena, that was very attractive to us. Typically, I’m not even a big fan of naming rights. But I felt like our whole goal here is to be the best bank of Baltimore, and to get people to know who we are and how we do business. And we felt like the timing was absolutely perfect. When we became the largest bank headquartered in Baltimore [based on assets] late last year, the first thing we did was call Carson [Denbow, marketing representative]. And we said, our marketing plan just changed exponentially. And so we were totally focused on everything that we could do to get our name out there in the marketplace. When this opportunity presented itself, we felt, like, jeez, this is absolutely perfect for us and perfect timing.

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JD: Let me add something to that, because something really important to me, and to all of us at the bank, is the revitalization of the west side of Baltimore. I was the lead donor in the Mother Mary Lange school that was developed on Martin Luther King [Boulevard], and it’s the first Catholic school that’s been done [in Baltimore] in like 60 years. So all of it is in an effort to put some money toward an underserved area of Baltimore, which has been kind of neglected for years. So, this is the same type of thing. We want to put significant dollars towards the arena. And, you know, hopefully that’ll stimulate significant growth in that area, too.

Tell me about the circumstances that have led to the growth that you’re experiencing.

BW: I would say we probably have more than doubled our asset size in the past two years, and CFG Bank’s traditional loans have more than doubled in the past three-and-a-half years. We have a robust health care business; that was the business Jack was in when he bought the bank. And we have basically our traditional bank business that has been really developed well by Chris Chick, our chief lending officer and chief operating officer. He’s been with us for three-and-a-half years, and he does business the right way with the right types of people. He’s developed a high-quality lending team, and a support staff, and we we’ve always been a relationship banker. He’s taken that concept and truly walked the walk.

JD: Adding to that, I have many other different businesses. I own a bunch of nursing homes and assisted living facilities all throughout the U.S. So I have to borrow from banks all the time, and in my health care lending platform prior to having the bank, I used to fund bridge loans before I got my clients [U.S. Housing and Urban Development] insured loans, through borrowing from other banks.

And so when the financial crash happened in 2008, the banks that I had lines of credit with immediately dropped me like a ton of bricks. And I said, you know what, I am never going to put myself in this position again, and I’m gonna buy a bank.

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And when I buy this thing, I’m gonna train everybody to be tough, understand my philosophy about banking, and it’s going to be, not everything fits in the box. In fact, we look to be outside of the box. That’s what we’re all about. We’re not going to be traditional bankers. We want to conquer the middle-Atlantic market, and we’ve already conquered the the health care market, nursing and assisted living on a national basis. Now we’ve ventured into cannabis lending. And we’ll do the same thing on a nationwide basis.

What does it mean for a bank to be out-of-the-box thinkers?

BW: Cannabis is simply an example of how we are different. I like to tell people that what makes us different from most banks is we look at our lenders, and most lenders are either good at sales or better at credit, and usually it’s hard to find lenders who are good at both. And everybody on our team is very good at both and that allow us to be creative in finding solutions to help our clients.

So I would say we’re kind of the perfect bank to do cannabis because we are privately owned by an entrepreneur. And we’re not afraid of doing things that are difficult, because cannabis, we’re literally pioneers, because there are other banks that dabble in cannabis, but they they look at it like every other bank, like it’s a real estate-based loan. And we look at it more as it should be looked at it, like a cash-flow, enterprise-value loan, which allows us to do more business and better business. And because of that, that sets us apart from the others.

You could open up offices and headquarters anywhere in the state; there are challenges in every county. I’m curious where the commitment to Baltimore comes from?

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JD: I spent basically my whole career here and raised my kids here. And I’ve lived in the city. And the company, actually, we’re just across the city line in the county right now. But I just saw what was going on in Baltimore. There’s so many places like Port Covington, Harbor East, and they’re perfect places to move your company. The city’s been good to me, and I have this sense of loyalty. I want to put a lot of money into a lot of different things, and I’m going to continue to do that, you know, for the good of Baltimore City.

BW: I’m born and bred in Baltimore, I even went to college here. There’s so many great things about Baltimore. Obviously it has challenges, and Jack and I both want to do whatever we can to get Baltimore back to a good place. It’s not going to be easy. As you know, one person, one company can’t do it. But we feel like by investing in the city through Port Covington and the naming rights, that will help to encourage further investment in Baltimore. Because that’s what the city needs to get back on the right track.

What should readers know about the community-based piece of what you do?

BW: We have a long history of giving back to the community. As Jack mentioned earlier, he gave $3 million for the Archdiocese, seed money for the first Catholic school in Baltimore City in 60 years. And we’ve given a substantial amount of money to the [National] Aquarium. We try to focus on education and helping bring people out of poverty. Those are two important goals because we feel like those two things will improve society. And our efforts are pretty much focused on the Baltimore area, but if we see a nonprofit that’s doing special things in those areas, we don’t hesitate to get involved.

JD: My philanthropic efforts are focused on education and recreation, because those are two things that actually sort of kept me out of trouble when I was younger. But one of the things I’m most proud of is that my family and the bank with some seed money, a couple million bucks, we started the Jack and Nancy Dwyer Workforce Development nonprofit company.

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There’s a threefold mission: One is to go into underserved neighborhoods, and try to educate them on a career path. And I couldn’t think of a better career path than the nursing home and the assisted living industry or anywhere else in the health care space.

So I’ll train you to become a CNA [certified nursing assistant], help pay for all that. And if you need other services, I’ll pay you for that. If you need housing, I’ll subsidize that, if you need transportation, we’ll pay for that through Dwyer Workforce. And the goal is to get them to work there and stay there.

But the most important thing is, in addition to the $2 million that the bank seeded, we bought 60 of the nursing homes that I continue to manage, that I owned for about eight years with another partner. And those nursing homes throw off a significant amount of cash, tens of millions of dollars on a yearly basis.

This is an absolutely major thing. If you know anything about nonprofits, half their time they spend raising money. We don’t have to do that. I mean, we will do that in addition to our own money, but it’s just a creative model that I’ve come up with that allows us to spend less time on fundraising, and we have money to execute our mission.